“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyages of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
From the William Shakespeare play “Julius Caesar,” these words were spoken by Brutus. The quote is Brutus’s attempt to persuade Cassius to advance and attack instead of waiting. The words are eloquent and haunting.
William Shakespeare never attended a university. He was educated at Kings Academy, a prestigious grammar school, where he studied Latin as well as Ancient History and Philosophy. Taking the tide of his vision and talents, he became an actor, poet, playwright, and share-owner in the Globe Theater. He authored 37 plays and 154 Sonnets; however, some of his contemporaries thought him an upstart and alluded to his lack of education.
Shakespeare’s plays were vastly popular and attended by the public as well as by Queen Elizabeth and King James. Community life in Elizabethan England involved the excitement of waiting for William Shakespeare to finish writing his next play. It is a measure of his thinking that he did not always sign his work. His plays were published in his name after his death by fellow actors who wanted William Shakespeare remembered for his literary genius. He would emerge as one of the greatest and most quoted literary figures of all time.
Do we experience internal and external tides in our own lives? On a recent trip to Missouri, we stopped in Corbin, Kentucky and were excited to find ourselves at the site of the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. The restaurant had a small museum dedicated to the life of Colonel Harland Sanders and his famous fried chicken. It was at age 65, we learned, with money from his Social Security check, that he took the tide of opportunity and began a franchise with a chicken recipe. Today we benefit not only from his chicken but also his many charitable trusts.
Another example where talent and need met the tide of fortune was Steve Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs. With only a garage as a workshop, they built one of the earliest personal computers. Demand was so great Apple Computers was formed and history was made. With personal computers at affordable prices, the world would never be the same.
How do we meet with our own tide when we are not Shakespeare, Steve Jobs or Colonel Sanders? Most of us feel bound … stuck in our current situations. But should we look closer to see what is in our lives, both internally and externally, that we can use? Where is the match for us between the internal tide in our mind and external tide of human need and interest? We all have talents and gifts. To paraphrase Will Rogers, we all have wisdom, just about different things.
How do we view ourselves? In researching Shakespeare, it was apparent that he did not think of himself as the great bard and playwright but rather as a man with a deadline. He took the tide needed to finish writing his latest play so that he and his fellow actors could get on with the show!
In 2009 Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, the hero pilot on U.S. Airways flight 1549 to Charlotte, was ready for the tide of crisis when one of the plane’s engines failed. He successfully landed the plane in the Hudson River, saving all aboard and said that his whole life had been training for that one moment. What skills are we learning now … patience (?) … thrift (?) … persistence (?) … creativity (?) … that might be used for something greater when the time is right?
We think the tide of fortune is always there for us. In this quote Shakespeare suggests that we have the freewill to take the tide that will improve our lives. But, do we have the boldness or shall we rest in the shallows? “To be or not to be,” is that not the question?
— Gordon Mercer and Marcia Gaines Mercer are North Carolina writers.